The tiniest shadows of the moon could cover tiny patches of frozen water.


Water ice may be more abundant on the lunar surface than previously thought.

New research results published Monday in the journal Nature Astronomy indicate that tiny sheets of ice could be hiding in the shadow of the moon.

“If you can imagine standing on the lunar surface near one of its poles, you would see shadows everywhere,” said Paul Hayne, assistant professor of astrophysics and planetary sciences at the University of Colorado, in a news release. “Many of these tiny shadows could be filled with ice.”

Hayne and her colleagues suspect that many of the moon’s smaller shadows are permanent. Scientists predict that many of these darkened pockets of the moon’s surface or “cold traps” have not been hit by a ray of sunshine for billions of years.

“If we’re right, water will be more readily available as drinking water, as rocket fuel, for anything NASA needs water for,” Hayne said.

For a larger example of a cold trap, the study authors looked at Shackleton Crater, a huge low-pressure system at the moon’s south pole. Because much of the crater remains permanently darkened, temperatures within the 13-mile-wide low-pressure system remain constant at minus 300 degrees Fahrenheit throughout the year.

“The temperatures are so low in the cold traps that the ice would act like a rock,” Hayne said. “If the water gets in there, it won’t go anywhere for a billion years,” Hayne said.

To find out just how common cold traps are, the researchers collected a large amount of data on the contours of the lunar surface and used models to simulate the appearance of the moon on a small scale. Their analysis revealed that the lunar surface resembles a golf ball and is covered with tiny dimples.

The models showed that many of these small bumps, ridges and ridges are capable of keeping small parts of the lunar surface in permanent shade. Although simulations suggest that most of the moon’s cold traps are no wider than one centimeter, together they form 7,000 square miles of permanent shadow.

Scientists can’t be sure that these tiny cold traps contain ice water. To find out, a lunar mission is required.

The discovery was announced the same day NASA confirmed water molecules on the sunlit moon’s surface.

The discovery, according to the researchers, has yet to be confirmed: the moon’s atmosphere is so thin that water molecules are likely to be rapidly lost in space, so it is unknown how they would remain on the surface.

But finding water resources will be key to establishing a human presence on the moon, they said.

If the cold traps identified by Hayne and her colleagues actually contain water and the water molecules are on the sunny side of the moon, NASA may be more flexible about where to place its human missions.

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